Alton Brown has a show on the Food Network called Feasting on Asphalt, in which he travels the country, avoiding interstate highways, and samples local road food. So far he’s traveled Route 66 and the Mississippi River in seasons 1 and 2. Apparently he’s going to the Caribbean for season 3 so I hope to see roti and doubles when it airs in September. But should Alton ever in the future travel the Ohio River I have a suggestion for the perfect stop on his trip.
This is a really bad map I pulled from yahoo. If you start at Pittsburgh you can see the Ohio river snaking its way northwest. At the point where the Ohio River stops going north and decides to head south it is met by a tributary, the Beaver River. Travel up this waterway several miles to New Brighton and you will come to the birthplace of a western Pennsylvania icon.
The Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe is a cultural phenomenon, centered mostly in Beaver County. Yes, I said “centered mostly.” They have 11 locations.
I know what you’re thinking. Anyone can do hot dogs, what’s so special? Come inside and you will see. Enter in the middle of the lunch rush and you will pick your way through the teeming mass of people to the order counter. You don’t have a lot of choices, to be honest, and you will most likely order what will turn out to be an unremarkable hot dog. But on the side, in its own little plastic basket (or Styrofoam container if your oder is to go) waits the pinnacle in road food eatery:
Chili cheese fries.
This is what I miss most about home. Made daily on location, these skin-on french fries are a thing of beauty. Back when I was a kid my hometown didn’t have a McDonald’s until I was 12 years old. When they finally showed up they set up shop right next door to the Hot Dog Shoppe. This was very convenient for us, because we used to hit the McDonald’s drive thru for the burgers and then swing next door for the fries. Ask anyone in town, we’ve all done it.
But it’s not just the dogs and fries that made this establishment the local legend that it is. Why is it that everywhere you turn you’re talking to someone who just ate there last week? One word: Marketing. No, not marketing. Branding. When you leave the Hot Dog Shoppe you take a piece of it with you.
Every now and then they change designs, but the basic theme remains the same. Hot dogs with arms and legs doing all sorts of things. There’s usually a seasonal theme, and here they are at a picnic cooking, well, hot dogs. Reminiscent of Eskimo Joe’s out in Oklahoma, the Hot Dog Shoppe has its own merchandise. Except here they take it a step further. To ensure that you’ll remember where you ate that last meal, every drink is served in a to-go cup just like this one. And I’m not stretching the truth too much when I tell you there’s at least one of these in almost every pantry in the county.
So there you have it. The first rule of being a successful restaurateur. Good fries plus really weird cups equals a gold mine.
Alton, are you listening?